Mesa Musings: Trusting New Yorkers is a sucker's bet

"A fool and his money are soon parted," goes the old saw.

Gullible describes me as a 19-year-old U.S. Army private in 1964, stationed just outside of New York City.

On weekends, my buddies and I would take the New Haven Railroad from New Rochelle, N.Y., the home of Ft. Slocum, into Grand Central Station.

As privates, we made a whopping $78 per month. We'd go into New York City, load several guys into a cheap hotel room, and attend a Broadway show or see a Yankees game for virtually nothing.

I remember one particular weekend in the city.

After lunch in the mess hall on a Saturday, I purchased a roundtrip train ticket into NYC. I met a couple of buddies downtown and we shared a room. We each had weekend plans.

On Saturday evening, I went to see the Broadway musical "Fade Out Fade In," with Carol Burnett, Jack Cassidy and Tina Louise. It was a hoot! On Sunday afternoon, I watched Mickey Mantle hit a towering drive over Yankee Stadium's right-centerfield wall.

What a weekend!

After the baseball game, I took the subway to Times Square to do some last-minute people-watching.

As darkness fell, I commenced the 15-minute walk to Grand Central to take the train back to New Rochelle. I wasn't in uniform.

Several blocks from Grand Central, I sensed a person tailing me. I continued walking.

"You must be a G.I.," I heard the person call out over my right shoulder.

I kept moving, but glanced backward. He appeared non-threatening and in his late 20s or early 30s.

"Yeah. How'd you know?" I replied, maintaining my pace.

"I could tell by your military bearing," he said, revealing a pronounced "noo yawk" accent.

"Where you headed?" he asked

"Grand Central," I replied, "I'm going back to the post."

"Ft. Dix?" He knew something about the military.

"Naw. I'm at Slocum, near New Rochelle."

"You ain't from here," he probed. "Where you from?"


I kept walking, remembering my dad's admonition: "Show little interest in strangers who show interest in you."

"California?" The guy was relentless! "How do you like New York?"

"I like it."

"What about the people?" he dug deeper.

"They seem OK," I said diplomatically. "Not warm or friendly … but, OK."

"Out-of-towners always portray us that way, and it's not accurate," he lamented. "In fact, I'm gonna prove to you it's not true. Let me buy you a soda. You've got time! A train leaves for New Rochelle every half-hour."

I followed him into a deli and he bought me a 25-cent Coke.

He continued grilling me about New Yorkers, and I replied in mostly positive terms. Finally, I thanked him for the Coke and excused myself. I had to catch my train. He grabbed my arm as we stepped out on the sidewalk.

"Listen, I want to prove something to you. New Yorkers are nice, honest people. You're overly suspicious!"

I didn't see the sucker punch coming.

"How much money you got in your wallet?"

I knew precisely how much I had. I'd carefully parceled it out all weekend.

"Two dollars." He didn't bat an eye.

"Give it to me," he pressed. "It's OK; you'll get it back! I want to prove a point."

Slowly, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet. I handed over my two George Washingtons. Surely he wouldn't pinch my last two bucks!

"Now, you go ahead to Grand Central, and I'll take a different route and we'll meet in 10 minutes near the big clock at the information counter. I'll give you your money back. It'll change your opinion of New Yorkers!"

I made my way into Grand Central and walked toward the clock, expecting to see my new best friend. He wasn't there. I waited five minutes. Then ten.

A light bulb finally went on over my head. Scammed by a pseudo-Samaritan! Boy, did I feel dumb.

Factoring in the 25-cent Coke he'd purchased at the deli, he'd taken me for $1.75. Not chump change to a guy making $78 a month!

Welcome to the Big Apple!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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